Spectrum auction might push down your cellphone bill

The Federal Communications Commission recently sold off spectrum previously used for TV broadcasting to wireless carriers.
The Federal Communications Commission recently sold off spectrum previously used for TV broadcasting to wireless carriers. AP

TV signals are shifting to cell service, which might ultimately bring down your monthly wireless bill.

Last Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission completed a reverse auction that peddled off surplus radio spectrum traditionally used for broadcasting television over the air.

T-Mobile was the big buyer, meaning it has the potential to offer better coverage in wider areas and pose stiffer competition to industry leaders Verizon and AT&T. Some analysts think that will feed the trend driving carriers to offer more unlimited data and drop prices.

The FCC said T-Mobile spent $8 billion, the Dish Network was second at $6.2 billion, and Comcast — the cable company wanting to sell cell service — spent $1.7 billion. AT&T spent less than $1 billion. US Cellular spent $328 million.

Verizon was expected to bid in the auction, but ultimately did not buy any new spectrum. Sprint had announced beforehand that it was sitting out the auction.

CNET offers a breakdown of what the sale might mean. For starters, the 600 megahertz spectrum sold in the auction is particularly valuable because it’s good for traveling long distances and penetrating walls.

It could help T-Mobile’s sometimes anemic coverage come closer to the wide range of the bigger carriers, giving the upstart network a better chance to challenge them.

“T-Mobile, the nation’s third-largest wireless provider, has been trying to assemble a similar set of assets for its own network,” CNET wrote. “But for the most part, it lacked significant amounts of low-band spectrum. Until now.”

Analysts were surprised that Verizon didn’t bid in the auction. But they looked at the results as continuing evidence that the company might partner with Dish, a company that could help the wireless someday sell video programming over its network.

“Dish, for its part, has been collecting a vast trove of spectrum licenses,” reported FierceWireless. “Dish is doubling down on its spectrum-collection strategy; the company spent more than twice what some analysts expected in the 600 MHz incentive auction by doling out more than $6 billion for additional spectrum.”

The sale comes amid the switch of TV stations to different spectrum to free up airwaves for the cell companies and other wireless industries. It’s also providing a financial windfall for the stations that had owned the spectrum sold by the FCC.

In all, broadcasters netted more than $10 billion. New Jersey public broadcaster WNJN took in $194 million. Boston’s public station WGBH will get $218 million to move WGBH and Springfield, Mass., station WGBY to lower frequencies, reports Nieman Lab.